U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is embarking on his third visit to North Korea on Thursday. White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said Secretary Pompeo will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his team. Follow-up talks for the North’s denuclearization that were expected soon after the June 12 Pyongyang-Washington summit in Singapore are taking place in three weeks. The U.S. State Department said after his Pyongyang visit, Pompeo will visit Tokyo and meet with South Korean and Japanese leaders over the weekend to discuss “the North’s Final, Fully Verified Denuclearization.”
Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang comes at a time when criticism mounts in the wake of the North’s tactic to delay denuclearization process and amid rumors about the North’s hiding of nuclear weapons. In their joint statement, North Korean and U.S. leaders agreed on “follow-up talks at the earliest possible date,” but Pyongyang has been wasting time day after day, and is found to have strengthened its nuclear and missile capabilities, rather than moving to denuclearize. This has prompted White House National Security Advisor John Bolton to pressure Pyongyang to “dismantle nuclear, missile, biological and weapons within one year.” Secretary Pompeo had originally said that he would not set a specific timeline for denuclearization, but he now has no choice but to urge the North to “promptly denuclearize.”
Even so, the North will unlikely respond to the U.S.’ demand immediately. Since Pyongyang is giving Washington the gift of returning the remains of U.S. soldiers who were killed in the Korean War, the North will definitely seek phased compensations such as easing of sanctions against the North from the United States. Moreover, the North is opening backdoors to dodge sanctions by increasing interactions with China. Now, the North is effectively exploiting its advantages. To this extent, Washington’s demand will only face deaf years, and it cannot be ruled out that setting a denuclearization roadmap, which is the core element of their bilateral agendas, will be considered less of priority.
However, this situation cannot continue for a long time. U.S. President Donald Trump has said he believes “North Korean leader Kim is sincere,” but he will not depend on Kim’s sincerity in the latter’s denuclearization pledge forever. With mid-term elections scheduled at year’s end in the United States, President Trump can reverse the situation to the time before the Pyongyang-Washington summit any time if the North continuously attempts to drag its feet. During his upcoming visit to Pyongyang, Secretary Pompeo should finalize timeline for the North’s denuclearization with determination. Pyongyang’s denuclearization without a timeline is merely a blank promise. Washington should never repeat failed nuclear talks with Pyongyang of the past, which the former has vowed not to repeat.